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Health obsessed the Victorians. The quest for health guided Victorian living habits, shaped educational goals, and sanctioned a mania for athletic sports. As both metaphor and ideal, it influenced psychology, religion, moral philosophy; it affected the writing of history as well as the criticism of literature. Here is a wide-ranging and ably written exploration of this fascinating aspect of Victorian ideas.
Bruce Haley looks at developments in personal and public health, and at theories about the relation between medical and psychological disorders. He examines influential conceptions of the healthy man: Carlyle’s “healthy hero,” Spencer’s “biologically perfect man,” Newman’s “gentleman-Christian,” Kingsley’s “muscular Christian.” He describes the development of sports and physical training in nineteenth-century England and their importance in schools and universities. He traces the concept of healthy body and healthy mind in boy’s fiction (such as Torn Brown’s School Days), self-help literature, and the widely read novels of George Eliot, Wilkie Collins, George Meredith, and Charles Kingsley. All these strands of social history, literature, and philosophy are woven together into a seamless whole.